Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Broken Treaty Quilts

Posted on November 12, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Matthew Craig

Gina Adams, who did a significant portion of her growing-up in the San Francisco Bay Area, later to come to Maine, has brought a collection of her Broken Treaty Quilts to the University of Southern Maine. Adams has created a particularly poignant series of quilts in this body of work. She has looked to her Native American heritage, as many do, and felt sadness and pain as she learned of the wrongs done by Euro-Americans to her ancestors. At a glance, this exhibit may seem difficult to understand, but upon closer inspection, it is simple and clear. Each quilt, in simply being a quilt, is steeped in tradition. Quilting has been a practiced form of art since, at the latest, the 16th century. Adams puts her own mark on this art with Broken Treaty Quilts. In this exhibit, each quilt has a portion of a broken treaty woven into its fabric. In order to tell her story, she has “chosen to weave that over-arching sadness into a source of tremendous comfort.”

After graduating from the Maine College of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she went on to earn an MFA from the University of Kansas, specializing in visual art, curatorial practice and critical theory. Carolyn Eyler, the director of exhibitions for USM’s art galleries, curated this exhibition. She worked closely with Gina Adams in selecting which pieces to show at USM. Adams’ interest in her heritage has led her to the creation of Its Honor Is Here Pledged, an exhibition of her Broken Treaty Quilts.

One of the treaties featured on a quilt in this exhibit, known as the Treaty of Holston, was made in 1791 between the Cherokee nation and the United States. Article I of the treaty states: “There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between all the citizens of the United States of America, and all the individuals composing the whole Cherokee nation of Indians.” This  agreement was broken many times. The Cherokee were later removed from their land by the federal government, resulting in the notorious story of the Trail of Tears, on which some 4000 Native American people perished, among other things.

Adams also stitched text from the 1794 Treaty between the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has been brought into legal disputes over land as recently as 2014. Since this agreement was made, at least 10,000 acres of land have been claimed by American government, despite the terms of the treaty. Though Adams is originally from California, her sentiment about the treatment of Native Americans rings just as true on the East Coast as the West.

In another featured treaty from 1867, the United States government claimed it “[desired] peace, and its honor is here pledged to keep it” with the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. The following year, at the Battle of Washita River, General Custer attacked a Cheyenne encampment with the help of scouts of the Osage Nation. The encounter is sometimes referred to as the Washita Massacre, as the Cheyenne were caught wholly off guard when they were attacked under the light of the moon.

The broken agreements mentioned above are only a small picture of the treacherous acts committed by the United States government against its Native American brethren. Hopefully Gina’s work can offer those affected by American territorial encroachment some level of catharsis, and at least raise awareness of these wrongdoings.

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